The host cities for the first six of seven stages for the 2014 USA Pro Challenge were announced at a press conference in Aspen this morning along with news of a fan-vote contest to determine the course for the final stage, which will end in either Denver or Golden. "For 2014, we have a great combination of some of the alumni cities that have really helped make the race a success in the first three years, along with several new communities, and the opportunity for fans to provide some meaningful input," says USA Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter.
The race will return to 2013 overall champion Tejay van Garderen's home turf for both a Stage 1 circuit race in Aspen on Monday, August 18 and a Stage 2 ride from Aspen to Mount Crested Butte on August 19.
Stage 3 will feature the first mountaintop finish in the three-year history of the race, beginning in Gunnison and ending at Monarch Mountain, which boasts the highest base area elevation of any ski area in North America, at 10,790 feet.
"We announced the host cities this morning and will finalize and announce the exact route logistics over the next 90-100 days, but one thing I can tell you is that we'll go well over 11,000 feet for the Monarch Mountain stage," Hunter says. "To give you some perspective, that's about 5,000 feet higher in elevation than the highest stage finish on the Tour de France. So it's going to be a really strong opportunity for some of the best climbers to create a bit of a gap early on in the overall race."
"We were part of the organizing committee the first year, when there was a stage in Salida and the race came over the pass," Monarch Mountain spokesman Greg Ralph notes. "We're even more psyched to have a big climactic mountaintop finish, ending right here on our mountain, with a celebration festival and awards ceremony in our parking lot."
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Colorado Springs will host a Stage 4 circuit race on August 21, and racers will head from Woodland Park ("The City Above the Clouds," a historic resort town west of Colorado Springs, near Pike's Peak) to Breckenridge for Stage 6 on August 23. Vail will host individual time trials for Stage 6 on August 23, and fans will vote on one of four finales for Stage 7.
"We always get a lot of feedback about the race route, particularly for the final stage -- so this year we wanted to give the fans an opportunity to provide some meaningful input," Hunter says. "The way the first six stages are shaping up, the race could very well be decided on the last day. We've narrowed it down to four options that could each be very exciting, and I'm eager to see see which way the fans lean."
Fan voting is live now at ProChallenge.com. Options include a Golden-to-Denver route, Boulder-to-Golden, Boulder-to-Denver and a Denver circuit race similar to the 2013 finale.
More from our Sports archive circa August 2011: "Lance Armstrong: Has he retired from involvement in USA Pro Cycling Challenge?"